Archive for the Food, Glorious Food Category

Knead to Know

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , on February 13, 2014 by davegerry

DSC_0779

I really am turning into my father. This is fine with me as he was a rather extraordinary fellow in so many ways. I learned to cook from my dad. He was a great experimenter with ingredients as well as a notable forager of wild food.

He did not bake a lot…although, on the rare occasion he would make a loaf of bread, he would often knead it in the clothes dryer. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. I would wake up in the morning and think, ‘What the hell is he doing?’. I thought this was so strange at the time but now that I think about it, this actually made some sense. Nestling bread dough inside a clean, tied towel and letting it get nudged around in a barely warm environment probably led to better loaf.

My wife is not about to let me bring flour and cornmeal and yeast anywhere near her beloved Maytag. That’s okay. I have found a very good recipe for bread recently and have taken to baking up loaves as hostess gifts (instead of bringing wine) when we are invited over for dinner. I think people appreciate the effort. This recipe has to be started about 15 hours before you bake, but it is dead easy and the results, I humbly submit, look and taste as good as any artisan product. I am still alarmed at what people will pay for a loaf of boutiqued bread.

I remember interviewing a woman in the tiny Newfoundland town of Brigus. She was the ultimate matriarch of the community having borne more than 20 children. I sat in her cosy kitchen and listened as she described a lifestyle that , for many years, did not include such luxuries as indoor plumbing and a washing machine. She used a scrub board over a tub.She also home-baked all the bread for this massive brood. I can’t imagine how many loaves. That oven must have been going 24 hours a day! She baked as a matter of necessity and economy. That’s a lot different than knocking off a loaf because you just happen to be in the mood.

Still, regardless of motivation or methodology, few things that come out of a modern kitchen carry the cachet of fresh-baked bread.

The Case for a Kinder, Gentler Kitchen

Posted in Food, Glorious Food, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 13, 2013 by davegerry
knife:fork

The tools of civility, not combat.

I just saw a promo for a new tv cooking show where, once again, it’s some kind of culinary competition. This one will allow people to cheat, lie and openly sabotage the work of the other chefs. Charming.

I think it’s great we have entire channels devoted to the joy of food, but really folks, does it all have to be some kind of subhuman, gnarly race against time and technique? Why the hell does everything have to be a knock down, drag-em-out fight?

It’s cooking. It’s not the Roman coliseum.

This is what happens when you combine so-called reality television (a continued blight on our collective houses) with the planet-wide pleasure of preparing a meal. You get shlock…pure, unadulterated shlock. Is this what it takes now to hold the interest of an audience? You need to ratchet up the drama. You do serious harm to the dignity of the people on the screen by gratuitously dramatizing their back stories. (Of course, people go willingly into these things.) We all have crises in our  lives…but I don’t need to see any of it on a cooking show. Some of the most obnoxious personalities possible are now standing there, raging at the tv screen.  There’s Wagnerian music…slam dunk editing…phoney-baloney timelines.  The shows are over-produced and completely (if not clumsily) manipulative. In short, it’s garbage.

We have ourselves to blame. We have taken one of the great, bonding universal survival skills and turned it into theatre of the absurd. Time in the kitchen is supposed to nourish both the body and the soul. I don’t want to be screamed at, denigrated, humiliated or defeated.  I want to sample some sauce and sip some wine.

I want to come to the table renewed.

‘Fast’ Food

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , on June 15, 2013 by davegerry
How long should this take?

How long should this take?

I don’t ask much of  fast food. I only ask that, in fact, it be fast.

I don’t expect that this kind of meal to be either satisfying or nutritious. Frankly, I don’t even expect it to be food. If they’re serving me an amalgamation of processed chicken lips bound together with some kind of recycled and reconfigured (though deliciously flavoured) cardboard mash…well, it’s my choice to eat it. But they’d better get it to the counter in a hurry, that’s all I have to say.

Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, I walked into a fast food joint (something relatively rare for me) and became quietly agitated at the pokey service. These people were slow. And there was barely anyone in the place. I don’t know if they speed up during peak periods but I doubt it. I watched one employee methodically delaminating a stack of cheese slices and her pace was positively Darwinian. The clock is always ticking for me in any kind of lineup. These folks finally got the food to me mere moments before my discontent became verbal.

There is a famous family incident where I once lost my temper at a fast food restaurant. It was at one of the ‘biggies’ and it must have been at the end of a particularly frustrating day but the slowness of service caused me to crack…right at the counter. I launched into a Shakespearean-like plea to surrounding patrons. “How can they call this fast food?”, I projected clear through to the dishwashing pit. “I could have gone home and cooked myself a fine meal in the time it has taken you people to scrape together this pathetic excuse for sustenance!”. My wife, who was standing beside me, was mortified. I believe she tried to ‘shush’ me…which only increased my agitation. ‘This is not fast food”, I continued. “This is slow food. If I’d wanted the benefits long cooking, I coud have stayed home with my crock pot!” The manager..probably someone named Skipper..was unable to douse the flame of my frustration. I stomped out of the place (still hungry) much to the relief, I’m sure, of the staff and the everlasting embarrassment of my spouse.

If you work in the fast food industry you should be hustling. It’s as simple as that. Get it out there hot and get it out there in the here and now. Don’t ever let the customer catch you sleeping. And the standard should be that if it takes more than 5 minutes before the food (or what passes for it) is in my hands and into my mouth….I get it for free.

Somehow I don’t see a franchise in my future.

Rounds of Applause

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , , on October 8, 2012 by davegerry

Booze that begs to be noticed

Recently I paid $45 for a cocktail. A single drink. It was a Manhattan. I believe, if you adjust for inflation, this is about the same amount that the Dutch paid in 1626 to the Lenape Indians for the entire island of the same name.

What do you get when you order a $45 libation? At Toronto’s tony Barchef…a supremely sophisticated, deeply darkened watering hole on Queen St. West, you get quite a show.

This is like Cirque du Soleil with hooch.

The Barchef Manhattan is just one of the molecular concoctions that fuse booze with bravado. These drinks are not slopped down on the table with a cardboard coaster. They make an entrance. They float in on beds of glowing embers. There are crucibles of scented dry ice that flood the table with a sultry fog…as if you were tippling somewhere on a moor. If you’ve put your cellphone down, it’ll disappear.

There are little pillows of flavour bursts that prep your palate…they call them raviolis…although there is no actual pasta involved. There are elegant spoonfuls of foam and scented salt. They have classified some of the elements as ‘air’.  So, yes, you’re paying for air, mon frere!

Most of this works wonderfully, especially as the evening wears on.

The Manhattan (the signature bit of alchemy) comes in sitting atop an elegant wrought iron pedestal. It is covered with a large glass dome which is full of smoke. At this stage you can’t actually see the drink. The smoke is created by burning hickory and vanilla bean pods and is designed to infuse the booze. The servers at Barchef  have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. There’s quite a tale to be told when they present the drink. And then the glass dome comes off with a flourish…the smoke wafts away into the blackness of the bar and you take your first sip. Drumroll, please.

It’s awfully good, folks. Even at $45.

I was taken to Barchef by a couple of television colleagues who, I think, were intent on altering my state of consciousness. They succeeded brilliantly.

And…the tab? Oh, please…must you ask?

Just go flush and leave flushed. You’ll have a good time.

The Morel of the Story

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , , , , on May 22, 2012 by davegerry

Morels in May

Tis morel time here in the Eastern forests. In fact, with above normal temperatures across most of Southern Ontario this Spring, the morels are probably done for the season. I was talking about these bits of gastronomic magic at work last week and none of the other co-hosts had ever tasted a morel.

It  is a difficult flavour to describe . The first time I tried it was as a child and my father gave me a big pile of sautéed morels on toast. It was too much, really. It was overwhelming. In fact, I rather enjoyed hunting for morels with my Dad more than actually eating them. For me, the thrill was in the chase, not on the plate.

I became a virtual sleuth of the forest floor. The morels appeared in the woods behind our home for only a brief period (right around the Victoria Day holiday weekend) and you could never count on them being in the same location the following Spring. That made them a bit mysterious to my childhood sensibilities. I thought everything in that forest was tinged with magic…but nothing more so than the morel.

I will always remember the day that, while wandering alone along a path, I hit the morel mother lode. There were so many of the mushrooms amid the ferns and the bloodroot and the trilliums that I couldn’t carry them. There were far too many for my pockets. So I took off my t-shirt, tied the sleeves and the neck hole shut and loaded the improvised bag with morels.

My father could not believe the haul.We dried many of the morels and kept them sealed in mason jars for flavour bursts in the months to come. And we must have had the inevitable pile of them on toast, or in some pasta…or, even better, with a good mess of scrambled eggs. I don’t remember the specifics. But I will never forget the look on my father’s face when I plunked the overloaded t-shirt down on the porch.

Priceless!

I Love the Smell of Duck Fat in the Morning

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , , on December 28, 2010 by davegerry

The world though duck fat

I have just finished hosing down the interior of our home from a yuletide explosion of duck fat. In fact, this could be a new colour swatch on the Sherwin Williams paint chart….Misty Morning Duck Fat. I could have used a culinary HAZMAT team in here.

I cooked two duck(s) for Christmas and meticulously followed a recipe I had seen on television. It didn’t work. It didn’t work as well as some of the duck I had tried before…so…live and learn. I should know better than to believe anything I see on television.The meat was juicy and tender at the table but the crispy skin never really materialized despite the heavy salting and three days of refrigerated air curing that I put the birds through. It was a fairly short cooking time at high heat and the resulting ( and aforementioned) duck fat weather system that enveloped our living space was impressive. I often caught fleeting glimpses of other family members struggling with their eggnog through the smoke. The brief bursts of flame in the oven were festive in a spontaneous yule log sense.

By the time it all emerged, every smooth surface in the kitchen was glistening with duck fat.  I didn’t need to eat the duck. I was the duck. I had duck fat in my hair and on my glasses. I was gazing at the world through duck fat, which is a tad smeary for my tastes. My 90-year-old mother-in-law, who stood faithfully by my side acting as a kind of kitchen-lieutenant for most of the afternoon and who had to hold fast to the kitchen island to keep from sliding away, was coated in duck fat as well. All she said when the smoke finally cleared was, ‘I usually brush the bird with a little warm salted water to get the skin crispy ‘. I’ll listen to her next time.

Sing for your Breakfast

Posted in Food, Glorious Food with tags , , , , , on December 6, 2010 by davegerry

The other day The Frau was sitting at the kitchen table singing a loopy song that was all the rage way back in 1957.

The reason? We were having a quick bowl of cereal before a bigger brunch planned for later that morning. The cereal was Honeycomb. It’s not my favorite but, then again, I don’t have a favorite cereal. Eating cereal for me is simply a stop-gap measure for my hunger before I can satisfy it with real food.

Anyway, as I say, the cereal was Honeycomb….which set The Frau off on a kind of half-assed karaoke version of a song by the same name which was a number one hit for a guy named Jimmie Rodgers. Eventually we were both sitting there singing Honeycomb while eating Honeycomb. What a lovely commercial, boomer moment for the folks at Post Foods.

I had the laptop on the kitchen table so I instantly looked up Jimmie Rodgers who, apparently, is still with us..perhaps still belting out hits like Honeycomb and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine in some natty showroom in Branson. In some respects, the laptop has replaced the morning paper at our breakfast table. I suspect the two of us are not alone in this.

It’s a good thing neither of the kids walked in the door at that tuneful moment. The sight of your parents sitting around in their bathrobes singing cereal jingles is , I’m pretty sure,  solid ground for seeking power of attorney.